Saturday, December 17, 2016

Review: NIV Bible for Teen Guys

The NIV Bible for Teen Guys, published by Zondervan, is a devotional Bible targeted toward young men from the ages of 13 to 18. Offering daily devotional readings from authors such as Mark Batterson and Max Lucado, the goal of this Bible is to build faith, wisdom, and strength in a growing godly man.

This is a great introductory Bible for a teenage guy. There is not much flash with it; the grey and yellow accent is a modern design that even picky teenagers can appreciate. The text size is average and readable, and the devotional readings are short yet rich. They contain biblical and theological truths while applying it to the teenage life - all without sounding condescending.

The Bible also features short introductions to each book and highlights of the men of the Bible. The Bible highlights, in a light yellow box, a few key verses in each book, which is great for easily-distracted teens who want to be able to siphon important truths from a sea of words. The Bible is hardcover and durable for everyday use.

As a young male ministry student, I highly recommend this Bible to the growing teenager in your life.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLook Bloggers <> book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 <> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Monday, December 5, 2016

Review: Misconceptions - Steven Reider

The premise behind Steven Reider's Misconception is simple: Christians neglect the reading of the Scriptures from its cultural-historical context, instead focusing on how it relates to contemporary culture. In short, easy-to read chapters, it covers topics such as the name of God, the letters of the Hebrew alphabet, Jesus' miracles, and even the Armor of God. Although I wish I could give this book a better review, I found it to be rather biased.

The nature of the book itself is quite interesting - everyone should understand the original context of the Scriptures when reading; this itself is a sound hermeneutical practice. And I admit that there were some interesting "aha" moments I had when reading. But Reider's hermeneutic relies entirely on understanding the first-century significance and fails to appropriate God's Word to today. Reider also inserts some of his own commentary and interpretation, which fails to make this an impartial resource. There are many misconceptions covered in this book, but perhaps the biggest is the misconception that this book will be unbiased.

I would recommend this book to those interested in a basic understanding of Jewish culture, but this should not be considered an exhaustive resource and is not ideal for those who are already somewhat familiar with cultural-historical contexts of the Bible.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLook Bloggers <> book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 <> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Monday, November 21, 2016

Predestination: Offensive Love?

Most Calvinists are very content with their beliefs until it comes to the “L” in TULIP – limited atonement. In fact, many Christians will call themselves four-point Calvinists, agreeing with everything but limited atonement. Limited atonement leads to the doctrine of predestination, the idea that God has chosen certain people from birth who will be saved and go to Heaven and those who will be damned to Hell.

The reason this belief is unpopular is because it makes grace seem offensive, God exclusive, and the faith not about relationship but about who God loves most. Arminians and other opponents will be quick to point out that predestination appears to be against God’s loving nature.

But predestination is not some random speculation or a cult theory, but rather, it is biblically-rooted. Throughout the Bible, God chooses certain people to fulfil His work – Abraham, Noah, Paul, Jeremiah, just to name a few. In the Reformed ordo salutis (order of salvation), election comes first. Election is often confusing because, in American culture, we see it as a choice; I can choose who I want when I vote in a political election. But God’s election is not a choice; it is His perfect will.

Read Ephesians 2:1-10. Imagine that you and a group of people are lying dead on the ground. When the phone rings and God calls, only certain people – the ones He has chosen – will be able to answer the call. This is the image Paul is conveying in Ephesians 2; we were dead in our sins, but those whom God elected to be saved will be able to arise and enter into new life. God chose us “in advance” (2:10) to do His good work.

Read Romans 9. The reality is that predestination is an offensive doctrine. There’s no hiding that. That’s why Paul is so defensive in Romans 9. However, this offense should be for everyone. No one deserves to be elected, and no one knows who is elected, so there shouldn’t be a sense of inferiority among those who claim to be “elected.” Why did God choose Noah to be the only good human left on Earth? Why did He choose Abraham to bless the nations? This is by God’s election only, and it’s a good thing that the choice is in God’s hand. We’re nothing without God, and we have hope that the

Read John 15.

Why the Nicene Creed is Pretty Much Awesome

The Nicene Creed (well, technically, it’s the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed...but that’s not nearly as sexy) is one of three ecumenical creeds that nutshells basic Christian beliefs and particularly hones in on the doctrine of the Trinity. This creed is more than a cobwebbed document that sits in a library; it is a living manifesto of the Gospel!
First established at the Council of Nicea in 325, the final stanza regarding the Holy Spirit was not appended until the Council of Constantinople in 381. Pneumatological theology had not been fully developed at the time of Nicea, especially because the council was focused on Christological heresy, in particular Arianism, who egregiously taught that the Son was created. But Arius was a charismatic and clever marketer, singing catchy musical jingles to declare that “there was a time when the Son was not.” As St. Athanasius and many of his opponents argued, if the Son was created, then he is less than the Father. Hence, the Nicene Creed was in a part an attack against Arius’ teachings, most directly shown in the line that Christ was “begotten, not made.” This is why the bulk of the Nicene Creed focuses on the work and nature of Jesus Christ.

The Creed parallels the Apostles’ Creed with a Colossians 1:15-20 twist. We see the cosmic Christ as the restorer of our relationships with God and we confess, as St. Anselm writes, why God became man. The Nicene Creed is the Christmas gospel; it explains the logic for and the nature of the Incarnation, celebrated during Advent, and looks ahead to the work he will accomplish for the Kingdom. As we read this ancient creed, we sit in wonder of the Incarnation – God becoming human in order to bring light and life into a dark and broken world.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Why Study Theology?

Theology may sound like a dusty, esoteric subject reserved for academia – but the opposite is true! Theology leads us into a deeper understanding of God, humanity, and the world in which we live. Understanding correct theology (orthodoxy) allows us to live God-centered, theologically-sound lives as we practice Christian doctrine (orthopraxy).

The initial question which arises is quite simple – what is theology? In short, theology is the study of God! If we break apart the word, we see theo, meaning “God,” and logos, meaning “word” or “speech.” You may be familiar with St. John’s prologue to his gospel, in which he declares, “In the beginning was the Word [Logos]” (Jn. 1:1). In other words, we could translate theology as “God talk”! And that truly is what theology is – talking about God in a coherent way. Theology is more than just taking scattered opinions and different references and smattering them together; rather, theology is talking about God in a way that makes sense.

Theologians make sense of revelation – and, by that, I do not mean the last book of the New Testament. Theological revelation is how God shows Himself to us, both through His Word and through personal experiences. (For a more detailed discussion on revelation, see Chapter 5.) Theologians take everything that God has revealed about Himself – through Scripture, tradition, reason, and experience – and make sense of it so that we might be able to live theocentric lives.

There is an ancient phrase by St. Anselm that very accurately sums up the work of theology: faith seeking understanding. Theology opens up a greater way of believing. The world has a tendency to view the world from a “see it to believe it” standpoint. But theologians take a different approach. They see the world primarily with faith, which leads to belief. Theology, then, is how we make sense of the faith we live and synthesizing it to construct how we should understand the world in which we live.

Of course, theology is so much more than simply studying. Theology is linked to prayer. The ancient phrase “lex orandi; lex credendi” supports that faith leads to understanding, so if we don’t pray, our theology will be empty and void. Thus, all you need for understanding theology is a pure mind and a pure heart. You don’t need advanced degrees to understand God. The fullest and richest encounters with God come from the deepest faith in Him. Indeed, the words of David are a sound prayer as we begin to pursue theology.

Create in me a pure heart, O God,
   and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation
   and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.

Psalm 51:10,12 (NIV)

Monday, November 7, 2016

Sources of Theology & Commonly Confused Terms

Theology is not a made-up field of study; we have sources that inform our theological understanding. Perhaps the most well-known approach to discerning a doctrine is the Wesleyan Quadrilateral – named after the famous reformer John Wesley. (It is important to note that, although the concept is named after Wesley, he himself did not create it.) As we seek to understand a Christian belief, we go to four points on this geometric hermeneutic:

Scripture. God’s word is the first and foremost source for informing our theology. It has complete authority and trumps all other sources.
Tradition. How has the Christian church historically handled this doctrine? Often, the church has been faced with opposition, which forced it into crafting a specific doctrine, as we will discover in our studies on Christology and pneumatology.
Reason. God gave us minds for a reason. Does it make sense?
Experience. This is the weakest of the sides, but how we experience God does matter. The key is to be able to discern how the experience was theological. In fact, many rely on experience rather than beginning at Scripture to craft their theology.

Talking Right about Theology
Before we begin, it is important to lay down definitions of some important terms that I will use throughout this book.

A doctrine is not the same thing as theology. A doctrine is a particular teaching or belief. In Christian theology, we have many different doctrines, such as the doctrine of sin, the doctrine of Christ, the doctrine of baptism, the doctrine of the church, and so on. If theology is a grand system of thinking and talking about God, then a doctrine is piece of that masterpiece, a brush stroke in God’s cosmic work for the universe. When taken together, doctrines comprise the Christian faith and glue us together by determining a basic Christian identity. So, despite differences between denominations and other groups, these doctrines form Christians into who they really are.

A dogma is a non-negotiable doctrine, one that is absolutely essential to the faith. These include the doctrine of Christ, of the Holy Spirit, of the Trinity, and of salvation. They are so crucial to the faith that, if they are removed, it completely morphs Christianity. Dissention on a dogma often leads to heresy, saying something that is theologically incorrect – an “out of bounds” teaching as dictated by doctrines.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Sermon: Catch of the Day (Jonah 1)

Jonah: Flooded with Grace (I)
Catch of the Day
Jonah 1:1-17

Today, we begin a two-week series on the life of Jonah entitled Flooded with Grace, and the title of today’s message is “Catch of the Day.”

We want to answer those questions you gave us last Tuesday (and, if you have more, you can still write them down later), but I first wanted to take a little bit of time before we answer those questions to discuss the concept of grace. The questions you gave us are awesome, but I think that they require a little stronger understanding of God’s merciful nature before we can tackle them. So we’re going to be flying over the book of Jonah to see God’s grace in action. In this short yet powerful story, we’ll see how God loves, pursues, and offers grace to all of us. That will be very important as we look at some of your guys’ questions later.

Also, it is my understanding you studied Jonah last year, but I want to study his life again so that we can gain a better grip on what we learn about God through this story. Even if you’ve heard this story a million times, I’m hoping that I can present it in a way you haven’t heard yet.

Jonah was a prophet (ask: Who can define prophet?). Prophets were basically God’s spokesmen. They were hand-picked by God, and God told them what to say to the people. God used the prophets to send warnings about the bad things His people were doing.

So in Jonah chapter 1, God tells Jonah to GO to a city called Nineveh and prophesy against it (basically: tell them everything they’re doing wrong). This is Jonah’s job! This is what God called him to do! But we’ll see that Jonah does something completely different.

[Read Jonah 1:1-9, 1:11-12, 1:15-17]

Let’s quickly summarize. God told Jonah to go to Nineveh, but Jonah went to Tarshish instead. Jonah got on a ship to go to Tarshish, but God sent a huge storm to stop him. The other sailors on the boat cast lots (in other words, they drew straws) to figure out who was responsible, and Jonah claimed responsibility for the storm. He knew that he disobeyed God. Jonah told the sailors to throw him into the water. They did, and the storm stopped. Then God sent a big fish (not necessarily a whale) to swallow Jonah. It’s a crazy story!

Nineveh, where God was calling to Jonah to go, was one of the worst cities to go to. They were known for their cruel battle tactics, mercilessly killing people, and became a great and feared city. God saw how bad they were; Jonah saw how bad they were; the whole world saw how bad they were! Jonah hated them. He said, “God, I ain’t goin’ there.” So instead he hopped on a ship in the other direction and went to Tarshish.

Jonah was trying to get as far away from Nineveh is possible. And Tarshish was the most distant city known at that time in the opposite direction. In fact, the two cities were on opposite ends of the Mediterranean Sea. So Jonah didn’t just defy God; he ran away - and he ran as far as humanly possible. He was only thinking about himself. One might say that Jonah was a selfish prophet ;)

I think that’s how we act a lot of the time when God tells us to do something. God calls, and we run. The reality is, we are Jonah. We have this natural tendency to run away when God calls us to do something uncomfortable or fearful. But here’s the good news. God will catch us. When we try to keep God at a comfortable distance from us (like Jonah did by running away), He will always find some way to get Himself back into our lives. It’s as if God has this cosmic fishing net which He throws out to recapture His lost people.

We often have this misconception about the Jonah story: We think that God sent the big fish as a punishment for Jonah’s disobedience. But, in reality, God is directing Jonah with the fish and the storm. God uses these events to stir a change of heart in Jonah. God didn’t send the fish because He gave up on Jonah; God sent the fish because He was pursuing Jonah. And God pursues us with “big fishes” in our lives as well. God works through us and through others when we run away from Him. It is His way of getting us back home.

In fact, God sent one of the biggest fishes of all to win back our love - He sent his only Son, Jesus Christ, to die for our sins. Jesus didn’t just come to earth to teach a few lessons and then have a party. God says, “Take a look at the amazing love I am showing you through my Son! Do you think that I care so little for you that betraying Me would make a difference? Look at my Son, who died for you! Won’t you come back to me now?

You see, we are all runaways. We have all been like Jonah at one time or another, fleeing the Lord when He called us somewhere we didn’t want to go. Maybe it’s helping a lonely person at school, or confronting a friend about that one issue that is really concerning you.

But what we learn in Jonah chapter 1 is that God’s love never runs out. Isn’t that an amazing truth? When describing love, the Apostle Paul said that its first quality is that “love is patient.” No matter how far we run away, God will always pursue us. Think of your favorite drink. It sounds good temporarily, but economics and a little bit of common sense says that it’s gonna run out eventually. You won’t be able to enjoy that refreshment anymore until you buy another drink. God’s love isn’t like that; it’s bottomless - it never runs out! He floods us each day with His new mercies. Another prophet, Jeremiah, wrote in the book of Lamentations that “[b]ecause of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness (Lam. 3:22-23).

If you’ve felt like Jonah, on the run for a long time, know that there is a God who offers you so much love no matter where you’ve been or where you’re going. That’s what grace is. God loves us so much and wants us to be home with Him so badly that he sent His Son to die for everything that we’ve done wrong against God. Our God is a god who pursues us and is ready to welcome us back home with open arms. So what are you waiting for? Stop running, and be God’s catch of the day.


Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Sermon: Meet Your Maker (Psalm 139)

Series:  Relationships (XI)
Message:  Meet Your Maker
Scripture:  Psalm 139:1-16, 139:23-24

(Good to be back...hope you are having a fantastic summer with the fantastic interns...)

Let’s review the two verses I hear you have been memorizing...
1 Peter 4:8 ‘Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers a multitude of sins.’
Ephesians 4:2 ‘Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.’

I’ve been asked to carry your summer-long study of relationships under the theme of a relationship with God. Now, this is perhaps the hardest one to grasp because we can’t see God like we would see a friend or parent or authority figure. But, trust me, a relationship with God is important because all other relationships fall underneath it.

Today, we are going to look at Psalm 139, which is one of the 150 ancient songs that are collected in the Bible. It’s a famous psalm of David, who, when writing, is facing all of these enemies around him. [read Psalm 139:1-16,23-24]

Big moment in an iPhone few weeks of the features that amazes me most is the AutoCorrect feature. Somehow, perhaps by technology or maybe by sorcery, the phone gets smarter and smarter and even knows how I type so that when I type a word wrong, it knows what I meant. What’s even cooler is that it knows what word I might say next. It can predict me. I’m in awe of the fact that there’s a small bar above my keyboard that gives me suggestions for what to say next. Amazing stuff. My smartphone knows me, because I know how it’s supposed to work. That’s how David saw his relationship with God. I know God because God knows me.

In fact, the focus of this entire psalm is not on David, but is instead on God. Let’s read the opening verses of the psalm again and count out loud the # of times a 2nd person pronoun (you, your, etc.) appears in the passage. [read Psalm 139:1-10 and count]

15 times in 10 verses we see David addressing God directly! See, God created us so that He could know us closely. This is what David recognizes and celebrates in - and what we should celebrate as well!

David praises and thanks God ‘for making me so wonderfully complex.’ We really see that the focus of this psalm is on God, our Maker. You may have caught the interesting imagery that David uses when talking about how God created us - he says that God ‘knit me together in my mother’s womb.’ While it seems like a weird word to us in English (to say that God “knit” us), the word knit in the original Hebrew refers exclusively to creating humans, not clothing.

But it gives us this visual image of God’s divine hands, with knitting needles in hand, creating us in our mother’s womb, knowing us before we even knew Him. God created us so that He and we could know us closely.

David then goes on to tell God, ‘I can never escape from your Spirit! I can never get away from your presence’ (139:7). David first contrasts the height of the heavens with the depths: the Lord is present in both places. Then he mentions the east, where the dawn appears, and the west - and the people of David’s day thought that the sea is always to the west. We see that God is present in the farthest extremes of the world, thus implying that He is present in all places in between. In other words, there’s nothing you can do to get away from God.

Then we jump to the end of the psalm, when David has a dangerous request for God - he tells God to ‘Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life.’ (139:23-24). This is crazy! He’s basically asking God to take a magnifying glass to his life, but it’s for a good reason. Since God knows everything about us, God wants us to know Him so that we can walk with Him.

David had a deep relationship with God. He wanted to live a life that was the exact opposite of the life his enemies were leading. David wants God to expose any offensive thing that he does, not because he wants to get in trouble, but because he wants God to help him live a good life.

And that’s how we too should see our relationship with God! God created us, loves us, and wants a relationship with us. It’s not a relationship where someone ignores you or doesn’t listen to you; instead, when you enter into a relationship with God, you get to “meet your maker” and walk alongside Him in every aspect of your life, including every other relationship you have with family and friends.

David’s psalm shows us that we were created for a relationship with God! This is great news, because without a relationship with God, we have no direction in our lives. God knows us and wants us to know Him, so the first step is to seek out a relationship with God. If you’re interested in what that looks like, come talk to me or a leader. We’d love to chat with you about what it looks like to live in a relationship with God, our Maker.

Thanks for your attention, and I hope you have a great rest of your summer and a great new school year.


Monday, October 17, 2016

TULIP and Reformed Soteriology

The branch of theology that deals with salvation is known as soteriology. It strives to answer three main questions:

  1. What did Christ’s death on the Cross accomplish?
  2. How do I get saved?
  3. Once I’m saved, what happens?

The first question deals with the subject of atonement, and the third deals with conversion and sanctification (the process of holiness). Although there are many competing views of atonement and sanctification, these two subjects are relatively uncontroversial compared to the second question. It is here that we wonder how we are saved and to what extent humans and/or works have to do in the salvation process.

I want to talk primarily about the means of salvation according to the two main camps: Reformed and Arminian theologies.

What is Salvation?
It helps to begin with a working definition of salvation. Salvation is the process by which we are saved from sin and welcomed into new life with Christ. It is not simply a one-time event; the ramifications of it follow Christians through their entire lives. Salvation is a two-fold event; it begins with conversion, which we would traditionally call “getting saved.” Then, sanctification is initiated, which is the process of being made holy and into the image God intended us to be.

Reformed Soteriology
The teachings of John Calvin lead us to the Reformed (also called Calvinist) faith. Calvinists believe that salvation is monergistic, meaning that there is only one actor in the salvation process – that actor is God alone. In fact, Calvinism is seen as a revival of the teachings of St. Augustine, who was a monergistic bishop, and is the most popular form of monergism in the Christian church.

Tip-Toe Through the T.U.L.I.P.
Calvinists believe in a logical progression of soteriology. Established in the Canons of Dort, this five-point doctrine is neither exhaustive nor fully believed by every Calvinist on God’s green earth, but it holds the essentials of its beliefs. The mnemonic to remember the five points of Calvinism is frequently referred to as T.U.L.I.P. – ironically, this acronym was created by Calvinist’s opponents in order to attack its argument!

Total Depravity. Humans are sinful and broken by nature because of the Fall.
Unconditional Election. God has elected (predestined) those who will be saved.
Limited Atonement. Christ’s death only covers the sins of the elect.
Irresistible Grace. Grace cannot be rejected if you are elected.
Perseverance of the Saints. Also called eternal security. You cannot lose your salvation.

Notice how, as we “tiptoe through the TULIP,” we see a very logical progression. First sin, then the workings of grace, and then life after salvation.